In January I read The Case of the Curious Bride also by Gardner and was rather disappointed because I found it far-fetched and at times was at a complete loss to understand what Perry Mason was doing and why. I wondered whether to bother reading any more of the Perry Mason books. But I had enjoyed the TV series very much years ago and I still had one more of the books to read. So, the other day I began reading The Case of the Howling Dog and was relieved when I realised that it is much better than the Curious Bride case!
Synopsis from the back cover:
A dog howled by night in the quiet of Milpas Drive, and drove Arthur Cartright crazy with terror. He begged lawyer Perry Mason to bring a warrant against its owner, who, he said, had taught the dog to howl in order to drive him mad. According to superstition the howling meant a death in the neighbourhood, and Cartright appeared to believe it.
But Mason believed that a deeper fear than superstition was impelling his client and when both the dog and its owner were killed he took up the challenge and set himself to find the murderer.
The Case of the Howling Dog was first published in 1934, the fourth Perry Mason book and inevitably it is dated, but interesting because of that. I couldn’t really see my way through all the intricacies of this case but I thought it was very entertaining and well done, and I hadn’t foreseen the twist at the end. It’s fast-paced, with just the right balance of description and dialogue.
Mason is quickly established as a lawyer who doesn’t like routine:
I want excitement. I wan to work on matters of life and death, where minutes count. I want the bizarre and the unusual. (page 21)
So at first he’s not really interested in Cartright’s problem and thinks the man is crazy. But it soon becomes obvious that there is more to the case than making a will and taking out a warrant against the dog’s owner. In fact it becomes a complicated and complex murder mystery, and involves Mason getting dangerously close to breaking the law himself; as Paul Drake, the tall detective with drooping shoulders, warns him more than once he’s skating on thin ice. Mason insists that everything he does is within his rights and he is representing a client who is entitled to a fair trial. The Deputy Attorney, Claude Drumm thought the prosecution was certain of a verdict, but he hadn’t reckoned with Mason’s tactics.
Della Street was also doubtful that Perry was doing the right thing
‘Perry Mason,’ she said. ‘I worship you. You’ve got more brains and more ability than any other man I know. You’ve done things that have been simply marvellous, and now you’re doing something that is just plain, downright injustice. (pages 114-5)
But he insists what he is doing is his duty:
It’s the function of the lawyer for the defence to see the facts in favour of the defendant are presented to the jury in the strongest possible light. …
That’s my sworn duty. That’s all I’m supposed to do. (page 115)
And at the end that is just what he does do and after the trial Della views him through starry eyes!